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A Course on Helping

We are often in positions where we know we want and need to reach out to someone who is grieving and sad, but sometimes we don't know how to help.

A Course on Helping: Responding to sadness and loss

By Dr. Charles Smith

One of your professors tells you that your roommate’s mother just died. You return to your room to find her crying. A friend tells you that his one true love just broke up with him, and he is visibly upset. You are on a plane going home for the summer and the elderly man sitting next to you has tears in his eyes and is sniffling. What do you say, what can you do at moments like these? Do you have the heart and the courage to respond in a caring way?

What stops us from doing the right thing at moments like these? We might be afraid of saying or doing something wrong and making it worse. We may not know what to do to help. Therefore, we leave or do nothing. If we want to be a part of the caring community that makes K-State strong, though, we are challenged to do our best to contribute to the well being of others in their darkest moments. William Butler Yeats described K-State when he wrote, “There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven't yet met.” A caring community means learning how to respond effectively to the sadness of others. It means having respect for their experience and confidence in their strength to persevere to overcome their loss.

Those dark moments can feel earth shattering. What was familiar and comforting is gone. Our lives will no longer be the same. Each of us will have to face the inevitable challenges of loss. To make this journey alone through that dark forest can deepen the heartbreak. But even the briefest moment of caring, for that elderly man on the plane next to you for example, can give the other the strength to carry on. For a moment, someone has a companion who shares the difficult journey. Having the courage and wisdom to do so ennobles us and makes us stronger as well.

To learn more about responding to the sadness of others, visit “A Course on Helping” at http://www.k-state.edu/wwparent/courses/coh/. A K-State professor in the School of Family Studies and Human Serves wrote the online course with a “conversational” format requires an investment of time and effort to finish. He originally developed the course for Red Cross caseworkers. Even so, the concepts of helping are relevant to the experiences of K-State students and their families. You can skim through the course as you wish. If you want to take “A Course on Helping” for credit as an independent study course, contact the instructor at casmith@ksu.edu.


A Course on Helping (pdf)